Jewish Agency Assembly Approves Budget That is Leaner and Meaner

The Jewish Agency for Israel will be running a tighter ship next year if it sticks to the budget its assembly adopted this week.

At the same time, the agency has succeeded in balancing its budget without throwing any of its programs overboard.

The agency is the principal recipient of money raised for Israel by the United Jewish Appeal and local federation campaigns in the United States.

The agency expects to spend $480 million in 1993. The amended 1992 budget came in at just under $600 million, a figure that included the paying off of most of a $101 million deficit accumulated in 1990 and 1991, the peak years, so far, of the aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

“If we get all the cash in that has been promised, we will have met not only this year’s expenditure, but paid the overflow (deficit) from last year,” said Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the agency’s Board of Governors.

Aliyah and immigrant absorption remain far and away the largest piece of the budgetary pie, representing over 45 percent of the total budget.

Next year’s budget assumes the immigration of 100,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union, an increase from the 60,000 or so arriving this year.

Nonetheless, actual immigration and absorption costs are expected to decline, reflecting largely the transfer of responsibility for the 15,000 Ethiopian Jews who arrived in 1991 to the Israeli government.

A total of $31 million is budgeted for the roughly 5,000 Jews who have arrived from Ethiopia this past year, a dramatic decline from the $107 million spent on Ethiopians in 1992.

Also, per capita aliyah and absorption costs for immigrants from the former Soviet Union continue to decline. According to agency officials, long experience in the field, coupled with trial and error, have led to greater efficiency and cost cutting.

The thousands of immigrants who arrived during the past year – Ethiopians, Russians and others – are still entitled to free housing in absorption centers or caravan parks, six months of Hebrew-language instruction and small stipends.

Next year’s projected rise in immigration from the ex-Soviet republics will cost nearly $109 million, compared with the 1992 total of $74 million.

As in the past, a large chunk of the absorption money has been earmarked for job training and retraining. In Netanya, Ethiopian women will be able to learn hairdressing at a vocational high school, while in Jerusalem nearly 100 elderly Russian olim will have the opportunity to work in sheltered workshops.

To offset these costs, and to compensate for this year’s projected $8 million deficit, the assembly members decided to cut corners in other areas.

Youth Aliyah stirred up the most controversy. The decision to cut $3 million from the $78 million budget of the department, long considered the jewel in the agency’s crown, met with shouts of opposition.

In the end, the department agreed to cut personnel and administrative costs, and to reduce student enrollment.

At a plenary session to discuss the agency’s goals and priorities, assembly members tackled the problems posed by the worldwide recession and shifting needs within Jewish communities of the Diaspora.

“Our ability to implement programs has been affected by the recession,” said Howard Weisband, secretary-general of the agency. “While we’re sure that we will reach our goal for the next couple of years, what about four or five years down the road?”

“With the recession in full swing, local Jewish communities abroad are feeling the financial crunch as well,” said one prominent fund-raiser who asked that his name not be used.

“Back in the U.S. and Canada, the government is cutting services and funds, and the Jewish communities try to fill the void. In the long run, this could result in less money being channeled to Israel,” he said.

A sign of the hard times can be seen in the fact that UJA has received only $327 million of the $605 million that donors have pledged this year.

Fund-raising professionals acknowledge that cash collection is behind where it should be at this time of year. But they point out that much of the money traditionally comes in the last quarter of the year.

Taking issue with the doom-sayers, UJA President Marvin Lender said, “I’m confident that we will be able to achieve our goals because we are using all of the UJA/federations’ human resources to respond to the cash crunch.

“We’re in the midst of an intensive cash campaign,” he said.

Many agency officials say they are already feeling the financial crunch.

“I know how difficult it is to raise money in this bad economy,” said Youth Aliyah Chairman Uri Gordon, “but it’s very hard for us on the Israeli end to proceed when we don’t know whether or not the money will come through.

“We promise new immigrants that they will get better housing. We pledge funds to projects in development towns. But then the money doesn’t come through, and the mayors say we were never serious about wanting to help. It hurts the image of the Jewish Agency,” he said.

“What people need to understand, Gordon said, “is that if they make a financial commitment, they have to honor it.”

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